I'm pretty new to the "It's a Wonderful Life" party. I only discovered it a couple of years ago and so this Christmas is only the second time I've watched it.
I really identify with the character of George Bailey. In his mind he had adventures that he wanted to experience and a picture of how to make his life count for something. But when changes of circumstances unfolded around him, he could still recognise the potential for the adventure in front of him. It didn’t match up to the image in his mind, but he knew the importance of family, of commitment and of taking on challenges that would make a difference to many lives around him. He willingly stepped up, even if he told himself it was only temporarily, until the real adventure kicked in later. In being that guy, he had to watch many other opportunities pass him by, and watch other people achieve extraordinary stuff while he seemed to remain in the ordinary lane. Although he loses perspective midway through the movie, he then gets to see the true value of his life through extraordinary means. If I did cry at movies, I would cry at that one. To see the world pause and honour you, and testify to how much impact you’ve had on them - that is such a beautiful gift.
And this year has felt like that movie for me. Weird, huh?
Bleak in so many places, devastating in others, pretty grey (though I did watch the reinstated colour version on blu-ray, but never mind), tripping back through many seasons of my life all in a short space of time, questioning my future, not being able to see a way forward….
…..and being surrounded by so many people, up close and from afar, who have showered their love and support and testifying to the impact my family have had on them, and getting to see my life from the viewpoint of other people, past and present, and realising that a lot of the ordinary and seemingly mundane stuff you did actually did make a difference. Like George Bailey, what should have been the worst day of my life was kind of weirdly the most amazing experience, at Richard’s celebration service, seeing so many people changed by our joint ministry and friendship. It was head-spinningly breathtaking.
I still find it hard to accept that all the stuff he/we were going to do is no longer a possibility. I don’t know if there was ever anyone so determined to take on the world and who started so many things in such a short amount of time. It felt like there was no closure or design to the end of his life - it just happened, when it shouldn’t have happened. I could list hundreds of things undone, half-done and almost done by him.
But this year I have got to see so much of what was done, by both of us (we worked so closely together on everything, it’s hard to see where the line is). This is such a privilege. It helps make sense of it, to know that so much has been achieved and although the adventure wasn’t the same as the one we sketched for ourselves, it was a great adventure, nonetheless. The same stuff that stings to remember, also fills me with gratitude and awe that we got to do any of it.
I have, contrary to the official rulebook on grief, had an amazing Christmas season. It has been full of fun and people we love. Being able to visit so many friends and family and meet up with people who are normally far away - that’s what my family love and where my kids get their security from. I know when I pull up at someone’s house and we all fall out of the car, it’s tough for people who don’t see us everyday, because the gap in the family seems huge to them, and it’s part of them working through their own loss. But for me it lessens the gap because it reminds me how full our life is, and how every sphere of my life has people in it that I can share jokes and memories with. I used to have someone who bridged every one of those spheres of life because he was part of all of them, but at least I still do have people in every one of them, many of them overlapping with each other, who share my memories and stories and I guess as a result of that, my identity.
And Christmas is the time where I get to see almost all of them in the space of a month. So, yes, there were tough times and it was exhausting, and New Year’s Day was terrible, but I didn’t want to miss a moment where I could fully engage with the wonderful life and the wonderful people I’ve been given in it.
Happy New Year to you all xx